|Official Plant Name||Daucus Carota subsp. Sativus|
|Native Area||Europe, South-West Asia|
|Foliage||Rosette of edible leaves|
|When To Sow||March, April, May, June, July|
|Harvesting Months||May, June, July, August, September, October|
Full Sun / Partial Shade
0.1 – 0.5M
0 – 0.1M
Most Soil Types (except unamended heavy clay)
Carrots are cheap, versatile, and delicious. Originally hailing from Asia and since taking the entire world by storm, carrots can be found at the heart of almost every global cuisine.
Whether used as a centrepiece in a salad, or as an aromat, like in a mirepoix at the heart of a rich spaghetti Bolognese, carrots bring a unique and distinct flavour to any dish they grace with their presence.
They’re easy to grow, too – as you’d expect from a plant which has been a staple in cuisine around the world and within all socioeconomic levels for generations. Getting carrots established in your garden requires minimal time and effort, and practically guarantees a bountiful harvest.
This guide will tell you everything you know to get your carroty cornucopia overflowing.
What are Carrots?
We’re guessing most people won’t need an introduction to carrots, considering that both now and historically, they’re one of the vegetables most readily available in the UK. But to set the scene, we’ll delve a little deeper into what makes carrots carrots.
These root vegetables, most often orange but also available in an exciting array of other colours, are formally known as Daucus carota subspecies sativus. They hail from the umbellifer family, making carrots close genetic cousins to celery, parsley, and other such aromatic plants.
The name ‘carrot’ derives from the ancient Indo-European word ker, meaning horn: Implying that their most identifying characteristic is a vague resemblance to an animal’s horn.
Types of Carrots
Most people think of the standard orange carrot when the vegetable is mentioned. These are far and away the most commonly encountered carrot here in Britain, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s your only option when growing your own.
Growing carrots at home gives you access to many exciting varieties in an array of colours that will impress your friends and liven up your cooking. Below we’ll introduce a few of these, along with the only carrot to receive the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Daucus carota ‘flyaway’
The flyaway is a proud recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit: Recognition that it grows exceptionally well in the UK. These compact orange carrots pack a sweet punch, and are a fantastic introduction to gardeners looking to grow their own carrots.
They enjoy full sun, a west- or south-facing aspect, and shelter. In terms of soil, they won’t thrive in chalk, but aren’t fussy with pH.
Daucus carota ‘Purple Haze’
Jimi Hendrix sang about purple haze, but it’s unlikely that song alluded to the joys offered by carrots. While this variety probably won’t make you want to kiss the sky, it will make a fine introduction to growing carrots that aren’t orange. The bold purple colouration is even brighter when you peel away the skin, making these great for cooking.
Purple haze enjoy the same growing conditions as flyaway, but avoid clayey soil as well as chalk.
Daucus carota ‘Nutri-red’
Here’s another variety offering a slightly different colour to the default orange. The red tint found in nutri-red intensifies when cooked, giving an exciting visual element to any dish that contains them.
Conditions are the same as purple haze.
Daucus carota ‘white satin’
We’ve had orange, purple, and red – why not white? These carrots are low in carotenoid, the chemical that gives carrots their familiar hue, making them great for people with allergies, or for people just wanting yet another colour of carrot to play with when cooking.
Why grow them?
While carrots are cheap to buy, growing your own is fun and rewarding. They’re easy to grow, making them a great introduction for fledgling gardeners. They’ll last a long time once harvested, giving you a plentiful supply of carrots to use in your kitchen.
How to grow Carrots
The first step when growing carrots is to prepare the soil, to ensure their roots can grow unobstructed into the ground. You’ll want to till about 30cm of topsoil, taking care to remove rocks, clumps, and other obstacles. If it’s not possible to till this much soil because of obstructions, consider growing our carrots in a raised bed.
Carrots are biennial, meaning you can harvest them twice a year. Plant out 4 weeks before the last spring frost for a summer harvest, or 10 weeks before the first autumn frost for an autumn harvest. Or both.
Where to grow them
Grow your carrots in a spot with well-tilled soil, full sun exposure, shelter from wind, and with a south- or west-facing aspect. Make sure the soil is loamy (a small amount of sand is tolerable, but avoid chalk or clay).
How to plant Carrots
Simply sow seeds into the soil you’ve just tilled. There’s no need to start carrots off indoors, and this disruption to their roots can actually hinder their growth.
Use a dibber to make holes about 1-2cm deep and 5-8cm apart, then place a carrot seed in each and cover back over. Grow carrots in rows, with about 30cm between rows. This spacing will give each carrot space to thrive – remember that while this may seem like excess space for the slim carrots you’re familiar with in the supermarket, the ones you grow will likely be much less consistent in shape and size. Leaving enough space lets carrots grow into whatever shape they desire.
When growing carrots, it’s important to ensure the top level of soil doesn’t form a crust, as this can damage growth. Using fine compost on the top layer can help to prevent this.
Carrots need to be kept moist, so water lightly and frequently. Use your finger to gauge moisture levels: At first the top inch should be noticeably moist, and not too wet or dry.
As the roots of your carrots get established, water down to two inches. This helps the deeper parts of the root system to stay suitably nourished.
Snip carrot tops with scissors once they’re about an inch tall. Using scissors protects the root systems from damage that pulling or yanking can cause.
Lots of kids will tell you that if you cut the top bit off a carrot and place it in shallow water, the shoots on top will grow. Many parents have used a Tupperware box with a carrot top in water vainly trying to grow into a new plant as a mini science project to demonstrate the principles of propagation to their children.
In terms of propagating carrots at home, however, this is as close as most people get. Because adult carrots don’t produce easily-gettable seeds, the most viable option for growing carrots next season is simply to buy another packet of seeds.
Carrots are a popular target for opportunistic visitors to your garden, as the cautionary tale of Bugs Bunny told us as kids growing up. Get ready for a game of cat and mouse as you try to keep the various hungry pests away from your carrot bounty.
All sorts of furry critters will want to eat your carrots, and in this instance, prevention is definitely the best medicine. Keep your garden tidy, making sure to not leave piles of wood or other material that rodents can nest in. Also try to ensure there are no small holes in fences that rodents can use to enter your garden from neighbouring ones.
Erecting a barrier around your carrots is another good way to prevent their premature demise. Many options are available, and the best ones will vary depending on the specific rodent visitation you’re experiencing.
These small and persistent pests love to eat plants of all shapes and sizes, including carrots. They’re visible to the naked eye which makes control a little easier, but they will try their darndest to nibble your carrots, making unsightly holes and blemishes.
To get rid of them, first try to remove the bugs manually with your hands, or with a spray of water. If this doesn’t work try applying an insecticidal soap to your plant, or to encourage predatory bugs like ladybirds to visit – they’ll eat the aphids instead of your carrots.
They’ll help you to see in the dark!
Did you know that carrots don’t actually improve your night vision, and that this was just a crafty piece of wartime propaganda put out by the British government to encourage people to grow their own food? The promise of fresh, healthy produce wasn’t enough, apparently: Kids also had to be led to believe that eating vegetables would grant them superpowers.
Regardless, the nutritional content of carrots is not to be sniffed at. They contain plenty of vitamins and minerals integral to a healthy diet, and they’re delicious to boot. Growing your own carrots will reward you with a plentiful supply of a tasty and versatile ingredient, suited for use in all manner of dishes and cuisines.
They’re cheap, easy, and fun to grow, and you now know everything you need to get them thriving in your garden. So what’s the delay – get growing now!